The interaction between host and host plant influences the oviposition and performance of a generalist ectoparasitoid.
The successful development of parasitoids of herbivores depends on the quality of their host, which is often affected by the host plant. Therefore, a parasitoid's oviposition decisions will directly depend on the host, but also on plant quality. Here, we investigated the direct effects of host species and the indirect effects of the host's food plant on the oviposition decisions and performance of the gregarious ectoparasitoid Euplectrus platyhypenae Howard (Hymenoptera: Eulophidae). With a series of no-choice experiments, we determined the oviposition and performance of the parasitoid on: (1) two caterpillar species, fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda JE Smith (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), and velvet armyworm, Spodoptera latifascia Walker, reared on maize (Zea mays L., Poaceae), (2) the same caterpillars reared on maize, bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L., Fabaceae), or squash (Cucurbita pepo L., Cucurbitaceae) leaves, and (3) S. latifascia caterpillars reared on leaves of wild and cultivated lima bean, Phaseolus lunatus L. All these insects and plants originate from Mesoamerica where they have coexisted for thousands of years in the traditional agricultural system known as Milpa in which maize, beans, and squash are planted together. We found that the preferred and best combination of host and host plant for parasitoid performance was S. frugiperda on maize. Parasitoids laid larger clutches, had higher survival, and more females and larger adults emerged from S. frugiperda reared on maize. However, when both caterpillar species were reared on squash, S. latifascia was the better host. Contrary to the literature, S. frugiperda was not able to develop on bean plants. Results from the lima bean experiment showed that parasitoid performance was best when S. latifascia was reared on leaves of cultivated compared to wild lima bean. These findings are discussed in the context of mixed cropping in which the ability of generalist parasitoids to switch among hosts and host plant species could be advantageous for pest management.